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Northern Irish Parties Briefed On Westminster Plan To Implement The Windsor Framework

Chris Heaton Harris, secretary of state for Northern Ireland (Alamy)

3 min read

UK government ministers have briefed political parties in Northern Ireland on their plans to take control of implementing the Windsor framework, after deadlock in Stormont has left parts of the post-Brexit deal unworkable for months.

Eoin Tennyson, the Alliance Party member of Northern Ireland's legislative assembly (MLA) for Upper Bann, said during an interview with BBC Radio Ulster on Tuesday morning that his party had been present during discussions that confirmed the UK government would "take powers" to put the post-Brexit treaty in place.

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government since early 2022. The region's second largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is refusing to serve in its political institutions in protest against post-Brexit arrangements for trade with Great Britain, which it argues undermine Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom. This has meant that Civil Servants in Northern Ireland have not had the necessary direction to implement crucial parts of the Windsor framework. 

Discussions are currently taking place between Downing Street, the Foreign Office and Northern Ireland Office about the best way for the UK government to give itself the necessary powers. 

PoliticsHome reported last week that the government had drawn up plans to take unilateral control of rolling out the treaty because the absence of devolved ministers in Stormont had hindered elements of implementation.

In particular, the government has struggled to implement parts of the treaty covering checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, which would usually be dealt with by Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, because there are no ministers in post to instruct Stormont officials to carry out the necessary work.

The NIO briefed Alliance and the region's other political parties on the plans to take control of rolling out Rishi Sunak's deal last week, PoliticsHome understands.

According to Tennyson, who wasn't in the meeting but whose Alliance colleagues were, UK government officials told Northern Ireland's parties that it would take necessary steps to implement the Windsor framework in the absence of devolved ministers in Stormont.

“The UK government will take powers to enable them to do some of the implementation around the Windsor framework as was agreed," he told the BBC's Stephen Nolan.

"As various elements of it [the framework] begin to come into operation in October and into next year, someone will have to take responsibility of implementation of that. In the absence of an Assembly, it is logical that the UK government would want to take those powers."

Prime Minister Sunak agreed the Windsor framework with the European Union earlier this year as a way of reducing trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain that were created by the original Northern Ireland Protocol, negotiated by former prime minister Boris Johnson.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says the Windsor deal is an improvement on the original protocol, but still does not address all of his party's concerns about Northern Ireland's constitutional status.

He has called on the government to provide further guarantees for Northern Ireland's place in the UK in legislation, which the government is expected to publish early next month ahead of the DUP's annual conference which gets underway on 13 October.

Simon Hoare, the Conservative MP who chairs the House of Commons Northern Ireland select committee, said it was "sensible" for the UK government to take control of implementation, even if it "narrowly and specifically intrudes on a devolved competence".

Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said the news was "final proof" that their call for the DUP to facilitate the return of power-sharing was "the right one".

“The noises made over the last 16 months that, by keeping the Assembly down, the Windsor framework or its Protocol predecessor would be rewritten, have been proven wrong. Clearly, the only way to challenge the Framework and maximise its opportunities is by restoring devolved government and making our case for change," he said.

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